By Abby Weingarten
Last fall, a vision for a more inclusive campus culture at New College began to crystallize.
The idea was to create an environment that would be more welcoming of all genders, races and identities—and to make New College a place that could successfully recruit (and retain) a more diverse, representative family.
It was a community-wide initiative, spearheaded by Bill Woodson, Ph.D. (New College’s dean of outreach and engagement, and chief diversity and inclusion officer); and leveraged by Loretta Shields, assistant vice president of human resources. New training platforms were created. Townhalls were held. And dialogue was encouraged.
“We wanted to create a space where people could ask questions, where we could have small group discussions around perceptions and values and experiences,” said Woodson, who had reviewed 2016-2017 campus climate surveys that showed New College’s areas of much-needed improvement. “It’s been kind of missing from the New College ethos, this idea that we are all New College (that we’re all part of this community). We’re trying to capture that magic and bottle it.”
Now more than ever—with the unrest throughout the world and the focus on ending systemic racism—this mission is crucial.
“We can’t turn a blind eye and act as if racism and discrimination do not exist,” Shields said. “We want everyone to feel like they belong here.”
Shields, who arrived at New College a year ago, said the high levels of turnover within the faculty and staff needed to be addressed (too many employees were indicating that the campus “was more of a callout climate” rather than a fully tolerant workplace, she said).
“We decided to try and bring people together, and really talk about giving people a voice and having an opportunity to be heard,” Shields said. “Inclusion means accepting everyone at face value for who they are, for whatever it is they believe in, and giving them a voice. That can be achieved by training and engaging in open dialogue.”
To this end, Woodson began chairing the Committee on Campus Climate and Culture (4C), and (along with President Don O’Shea) co-hosted townhall meetings in October and November for faculty, staff and students. The community engaged in selecting consultants to assist in leading the charge. New College selected Uneeda O. Brewer, principal of Accelerate Coaching & Consulting in Lakewood Ranch; and Ben Garcia, Ph.D., owner of Global Leadership Resourcesin Miami; to facilitate the first “Inclusive Campus Climate Training” program in January.
These in-person, day-and-a-half-long training sessions changed shape in the spring during the remote learning period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Going virtual in early May, Woodson and Shields reintroduced the training series in webinar form (as three, 90-minute interactive workshops on Zoom for groups of 24 people). Brewer, Shields, Woodson and Rosanne Cohn (New College’s new human resources training and development specialist) hosted the sessions. Cohn, who began working at the College in March, has more than 20 years of experience in training and organizational development, and she is a Dale Carnegie Training certified instructor.
“Each training session gives faculty and staff the tools to be able to better maneuver when they’re in a situation that’s uncomfortable,” Shields said. “It’s a matter of understanding that we all have these unconscious biases but it’s all about how you deal with them. We were trying to get to the root cause of this callout mentality and figure out how to mitigate it to create change.”
These voluntary sessions are so popular that there is currently a waiting list to join.
“By changing the perceived reputation that New College is not an inclusive campus, I think that will help us to be able to grow and have a diverse student population,” Shields said. “We’ve got to start from the top and work our way down.”
This training is just the beginning. Shields will be consistently creating and distributing more resources for the staff and faculty to utilize.
“There is no question that this is a time of uncertainty, not just for New College but for higher education in general,” Woodson said. “We have clear evidence that a more inclusive, more supportive campus climate will be an essential component if we want to continue to be considered an excellent place to learn, to work and to teach.”
The brief introductions to the inclusive training webinars can be viewed here:
Part 1: youtu.be/YnpGmy4I7To
Part 2: youtu.be/PIHKX9j1qDU
Part 3: youtu.be/7Un_Nx2nrvc3
Part 4: youtu.be/CrlRnH_yNso
For more information on New College’s diversity and inclusion resources, visit ncf.edu/about/diversity-inclusion.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.